December 18, 2018
Donors Have Little Preference Between Email or Direct Mail

November 23, 2017 — Nonprofits gearing up for yearend appeals will find it useful to know that existing donors are almost evenly divided on how they want those organizations to communicate with them—via email or direct mail—a recently completed national study has found.

When it comes to which method is more likely to be read, donors are almost evenly divided – 37% feel they are more likely to read direct mail, 35% email, and 28% say they’re equally likely to read either, according to the Donor Mindset Study, conducted jointly by Grey Matter Research, of Phoenix, Ariz., and Opinions 4 Good, of Portsmouth, N.H.

The survey asked 1,000 donors to compare the two methods of communication from organizations they already support.

The two methods may be equally likely to get read, but donors find it easier to discard direct mail unopened (41%, compared to 26% for email), the study found, noting, "This may be because the carrier envelope acts as a 'preview' for direct mail, allowing donors to see the purpose of the mailing, while some people may have to open the email in order to see what it’s all about."

However, the study concluded, reading some communications and tossing others away unopened are not mutually exclusive activities:
  • 34% of those who are more likely to read direct mail are also more likely to discard it unopened; for email, that figure is 20%.

  • Only 21% of donors are truly biased toward email, as they’re both more likely to read it and more likely to discard direct mail unopened.

  • Nearly as many, 16%, are truly biased toward direct mail in the same manner, the study found: "Most donors simply do not have strong preferences in how the charitable organizations they support choose to communicate with them."
The study also found that direct mail has only a slight perceptual advantage at communicating facts and information (37% to 32%), but it has a substantial advantage at telling a touching story (38% to 23%).

Even among the youngest donors, who are often assumed to reject direct mail in favor of digital communication, 38% give direct mail the advantage at telling stories (versus 35% for email). Among donors 65 and older, the perception is strongly in favor of direct mail (47%, to just 13% for email).

Where email has an advantage is in not annoying donors – but it’s only a slight advantage. Twenty-eight percent say they are more likely to be annoyed by receiving email from an organization they support, while 34% are more likely to be annoyed by direct mail. Younger donors are the ones more likely to be annoyed by direct mail than by email (45% to 24%), while among donors 35 and older it’s evenly split between the two. Where email has a substantial advantage is in the perception that it is a better use of an organization’s resources. Fifty-five percent of all donors feel this way, while 24% believe direct mail is a better use of resources. This is one perception that does not vary by age group.

"There are some in the industry who preach that older donors simply won’t accept digital communication, or that young donors reject traditional direct mail,” said Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research. “While different ages do lean toward one method or the other, most donors are quite accepting of both methods.”

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